Desire paths old and new

It has now been cleared, but when a great limb of the grandfather Spinningwheel Oak came crashing down towards the end of last year, the large branches fell across the footpath to the woods. The speed with which walkers trod a visible track around the obstruction got me thinking about a couple of other ‘desire paths’ around the village…

Does the path below only appear in the winter months? Does its shape change each year? Or has the route been trodden long enough to effect the growth around it? Snaking alongside an official footpath – the wide track through the woods at Tortington Common – this is a desire path to protect your trainers. The main track is seriously muddy. Your footwear is unsuitable. But fear not, for unseen walkers have shown a way through the trees:

Humans aren’t the only animals to create desire paths, of course. Deer and badger paths criss-cross the Binsted countryside, galavanting across fields and disappearing into woodland (ok, the middle photo is more of a ‘desire hedge gateway’):

That last photo shows what is probably a deer path, heading off towards Scotland Lane. Scotland Lane is perhaps the oldest footpath in the village, used in medieval times to bring animals to the forest court. It would have made sense as a route, between the heights of the downs and the marshier ground towards the sea. After all, didn’t all footpaths begin as ‘desire paths’? Perhaps the only difference between them is time, and a line on the map.

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